In this keyboard instrument guide, we will see how keyboard instruments have become an integral part of today’s musical ensembles, including the orchestral stage.
There are 3 common keyboard instruments; they are the piano, the organ, and various keyboards (such as the synthesizer and the digital piano).
As part of the keyboard instrument guide, the following keyboard instrument topics will be covered:
How Keyboard Instruments Work & Make Sound
Simply put, keyboard instruments work by striking, plucking, or drawing in the air. The first-way keyboard instruments produce sound is by depressing a key on the keyboard which “strikes” a string or tine, as in most acoustic or electric pianos, and the clavichord.
Another way keyboard instruments work is employing the use of a mechanism that “plucks” a string to produce sound, in much the same way a guitar string is plucked.
A third way is by forcing air to flow upwards through an instrument into pipes, which in turn makes a sound.
To elaborate, a keyboard instrument that strikes a string to produce sound does so by first pressing a series of keys or pushing buttons.
A hammer then strikes the strings which produce sound. The keys correspond to consecutive notes on the chromatic scale, running from bass on the left all the way to treble on the right.
The harpsichord, which was a precursor to the piano, uses a plucking mechanism to make music.
Two other lesser-known plucking instruments, the spinet and the virginal, all use what’s called a jack.
The jack sits on the key and is comprised of a narrow slip of quill or plastic called the plectrum, which has 2 slots cut into its top. When the key is pressed, the mechanism hits the plectrum, and sound is produced by plucking one or more strings.
The flow of air through an instrument is caused by driving pressurized air through pipes that are placed on top of a hollow wind chest that is filled with compressed air.
The air is then driven upwards into the pipes which then makes sound.
A common example of this type of instrument in the keyboard instrument guide is the very popular organ.
Different Types Of Keyboard Instruments
Within the keyboard family, there is the well-known and well-loved piano. There are 3 types of common pianos, they are as the grand piano, the upright piano, and the digital piano.
The piano was invented in 1709 by an Italian harpsichord maker by the name of Bartolomeo Cristofori. He invented the piano by using a hammer to strike the tightly tuned string instead of plucking it.
Before the invention of the piano, the harpsichord was the most widely used keyboard instrument.
A timeline of the evolution of the piano began in the 14 century with the invention of the dulcimer.
The dulcimer gave way to the clavichord in the 14th century as well, and then to the harpsichord in the 15th century.
By the 18th century, the piano became the primary keyboard instrument for musicians and has remained as such to this day.
The piano replaced the harpsichord in the range and volume of notes it produced. The range of notes on the harpsichord remained virtually stagnant while by playing the keys on the piano, a greater variety of notes were the result.
Today’s manufacturers of acoustic pianos are using innovations such as finding special woods to make the piano more durable and more tonally stable.
The result of such innovations is that the acoustic piano keyboards feel great and stay In tune longer.
Digital pianos are the wave of the future. Run-on specially programmed software, the digital piano helps musicians, performers, and composers get more out of the internet.
Digital pianos can also be connected to a computer and other instruments. Memory storage such as FLASH ROM makes it possible for people to download and store new music.
Another member of the keyboard family is the accordion. The accordion, more commonly known as a “squeezebox” is a bellows-driven, box-shaped, free reed, aerophone musical instrument.
Brought to Europe from Asia in 1777 in the form of the Asian Sheng, inventors consequently used the Asian Sheng to invent such free-reed instruments as the accordion and the harmonica.
The reeds in the accordion may lead some to believe that the accordion is part of the woodwind instrument family, however, that is not the case.
Mostly played in Europe, North America, and parts of South America, the accordion is typically heard among popular music acts as well as other types of music, such as cajun, zydeco and jazz.
The accordion is also used in solo and orchestral performances in classical music and is very popular in Europe and North America for dance-pop and especially folk music.
Electronic Keyboard and Synthesizer
Another section of the Keyboard Instrument Guide that includes a member of the keyboard instrument family is the electronic keyboard and synthesizer.
Used interchangeably, the terms electronic keyboard and synthesizer are usually the same.
The definition of an electronic keyboard is an electronic or digital derivative of a keyboard instrument. A synthesizer is an instrument requiring an input of data to play a sound or note.
Most electronic keyboards are synthesizers with a built-in low-wattage power amplifier and small loudspeakers.
The keyboard on a digitally powered synthesizer acts as the controller sending messages to the synthesizer about what sounds to play.
Triggers, which are volts and MIDI, are required for the synthesizer to produce sound. Keyboards alone do not require any type of triggers.
A harpsichord is a part of the plucked stringed instrument family, and, it has a keyboard making it a part of the keyboard instrument family.
Because it is considered a stringed instrument with a keyboard, it functions in two of the musical instrument families.
As a member of the keyboard instrument guide, we find that the harpsichord has been around since the Middle Ages, and is widely renowned as the forerunner of the piano.
When playing the harpsichord, the volume and ease of using the keys are different than most other keyboard instruments in the keyboard instrument guide.
First of all, a harpsichord has several keyboards, making it a stringed instrument with more than one manual.
The sound produced by the harpsichord is more formal and lacking in fluidity, and is not as expressive as the piano.
The octave range on a piano is larger than the harpsichord, whose octaves can be controlled by a pedal or a stop button which can add or remove additional octaves.
The volume on the harpsichord also differs from other keyboard instruments. Usually made to play music written in the Baroque Period the harpsichord is still in use today in some orchestras and other smaller ensembles.
The soundboard can amplify sound so that it is audible for concert audiences, but for composing and performing, the preferred keyboard instrument in today’s music world is undoubtedly the piano.
The organ is a well-known member of the keyboard instrument family.
It resembles the harpsichord in that it has several keyboards (or manuals), and reed organs were also grouped in the woodwind instrument family until reed organs became obsolete.
Sound on a pipe organ is produced when air is blown upwards through pipes, causing vibrations and making a distinct sound. It is also important to note in the keyboard instrument guide that the organ can either be played with the hands on the keyboard or with the feet using pedals
When the organ was first invented almost 2000 years ago, it was a crudely built keyboard with a series of pipes, which were powered using water pressure to force air.
Organs eventually progressed to using bellows forcing air into pipes and became so large they were mostly used in churches and concert halls.
The octave range on an organ is the largest on any musical instrument, an astounding 9 octaves.
Different Types of Keyboard Instruments
Woodwind instruments function as tubes that allow air to flow in and out of the cylinder using buttons or keys to manipulate the sound.
In the case of the bassoon, the air is blown into a steel mouthpiece, travels down the cylinder, makes a U-turn, and exits out the top.
All of these unique instruments rely mainly on air being blown into them and exiting out the other end, hence the name wood “wind” instrument.
The use of a “reed” in a woodwind instrument is another characteristic of an instrument in which air is blown in, but is transformed by the presence of a small piece of cane or synthetic material called a reed.
The air blown into these instruments is turned into sound when the reed vibrates, and the air exits out the bottom.
Some well-known single-reed instruments are the saxophone and the clarinet, and double reed instruments such as the oboe, bassoon, English horn, and contrabassoon.
Full Keyboard Instrument List:
The following is a complete list of keyboard instruments:
- bowed clavier
- electric piano
- pipe organ
- pump organ
- toy piano